Similarities, Differences. On the Comparability of Photographs
The Höcker-Album and the Lili-Jacob-Album – also referred to as the two Auschwitz Albums – are often mentioned in connection with each other and are at times directly compared due to their close historic connection. However, the question under which conditions different photographs taken in the context of the same genocide are comparable, has not yet been systematically explored.
Photographs are always a snapshot taken in a specific place at a specific time and are biased by the photographer’s choice. They are never value-free. Thus, it is imperative for researchers to know the context in which a picture was taken. But does the correspondence of certain contextual variables (subject, moment in time, place, photographer, intention of the photographer or the final use of the photograph) in two different pictures inevitably lead to comparability?
This paper uses two photographs taken in the context of the Rwandan genocide between early April and mid-July 1994 to analyze the conditions under which they can be compared. The iconic picture of a Hutu man with four long scares on his head is contrasted with a photograph of the massacre in the Rwandan capital Kigali on 11 April 1994. The latter was used as evidence in the so-called Military I case at the International Criminal Tribunal for Rwanda.
The two chosen photographs of the Rwandan genocide were taken by different photographers, nearly two months apart in different phases of the Rwandan genocide and in two different cities. This makes a comparison on a purely factual level difficult. However, a comparison on a more abstract level is possible. It offers for example insight in why photographs became icons of photojournalism and others are more useful as legal evidence. Therefore, the conditions of comparability always depend on the research question.